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Jesus’ ‘living water’ helps us remember 9/11 not with fear but with hope

Sat., Sept. 11, 2010

Today – 9/11 – has become an important day of national remembrance. So it is vital that we also keep the source of our memory as clear and pure as possible.

That is why I grieve deeply about the angry and fearful rhetoric I hear surrounding Islam in general and the proposed mosque near ground zero in particular.

So the imagery I offer you today for inner reflection is that of wells and cisterns.

As a Samaritan woman drew water from a well, Jesus spoke to her about “living water” (John 4:7-15). He used a physical well to point to the metaphorical living water which nourished people in the way wet water could not.

As you read this passage, note that he didn’t speak about water drawn from a cistern. The cistern played its part as a storage container for water. That water might come from rain, but usually from a nearby well. Yet if not used in due time, the cistern water could turn stale, even unhealthy.

Human beings are not nourished by stale water, but by water that has a flowing source. That flow has a cleansing effect no cistern water can duplicate. The ancients knew this fact of life.

That is partly why Jeremiah criticized the people of Judah when he spoke for God: “… for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Jesus told the Samaritan woman “the water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life” (John 4:14, “The Message”).

No cisterns for Jesus, cracked or otherwise. God offered living water that nourished people’s hope and vision, not which made them sick and fearful.

That comes to my mind and heart when I see examples of supposedly faithful people – especially Christians – so easily drinking from cisterns that contain the germs of fear, or hateful rumors too quickly perceived as “truth.”

The water poured into these cisterns comes from other cisterns where prejudice and unexamined assumptions are allowed to breed.

What cistern, for instance, does Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center draw his water from to convince him that burning the Quran offers any redemptive reflection of Jesus’ deep passion for peace among all people?

So Mr. Jones gets his “15 minutes of enflame.” But it certainly doesn’t come from a spring of gushing water. It comes from a cistern churning with the bacteria of hate, fear and who knows what else!

What some national media have labeled “Islamophobia” is only today’s dramatic example of how religious hysteria can happen from drinking rancid, cistern-stored water.

Every day, we ingest bad advice or perpetuate ignorant myths when we dip our ladles into the cisterns of knee-jerk reactions and self-serving information.

Step back from drinking the water you see there. Don’t drink the water poured into a cistern by someone who wants his angry and fearful experience to become your religious or political obligation.

Look for the flowing, active water available to anyone who is unafraid to seek a more inclusive “truth” than you’ve maybe been willing to settle for up until now.

Catch some of that gushing water in even a small cup so you can taste the hope offered in water bubbling up from the earth.

The God of radical hospitality offers living water that flows not from a cistern of stale, unchanging water, but from a fresh-water well that is open 24/7 to all who thirst. Especially on 9/11.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is founder of Elder Advocates, an elder care consulting ministry. He can be contacted via e-mail at


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